GGP Contract Photo_ roup. (Contributed photo)

The Government of Japan handed over two 28-foot and 38-foot fishing vessels to Palau, as well as signed the contract for the procurement of a pole-and-line fishing vessel expected to be handed over a year from now, this Tuesday morning.

The two smaller vessels, along with three fishing rods with electric reels and ten 200-liter cooler boxes, were donated by the Overseas Fishery Cooperation Foundation (OFCF) of Japan, and cost $405,636. The 28-foot boat will be leased to the Northern Reef Fisheries Cooperative and used by local fishers to catch pelagics, while the 38-foot boat will be used by the Bureau of Marine Resources (BMR) for activities to promote Palau’s fisheries, such as the deployment of FADs.

The pole-and-line fishing vessel, meanwhile, is still being designed and will be given to BMR, the Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment & Tourism (MNRET), and Belau Offshore Fisheries Inc. (BOFI) in February 2022, to help supply Palau’s domestic fish market with tuna. It is funded by a $769,118 grant from Japan’s Grant Assistance for Grassroots Projects (GGP), which is designed to assist projects for developing countries.

“The procurement of this longline fishing vessel by this particular Grassroots grant will be a new chapter in the history of Palau’s pelagic fisheries,” said Japanese Ambassador Akira Karasawa at the handover ceremony, adding that the grant was the largest from the GGP that Palau has ever received, and the largest in the past five years in all Pacific island countries.

Ambassador Karasawa explained that the three vessels will help to bolster Palau’s domestic pelagic fishing market, and to take stress off of the overfished reef species.

“The situation surrounding the fishing sector in Palau has been changing a lot, especially with [the implementation of] the Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS) . . . which put fishing pressure on reef fish,” said Ambassador Karasawa.

President Surangel Whipps Jr. echoed Ambassador Karasawa’s concern over Palau’s “dwindling” reef fish stocks.

“It’s like a savings account,” said President Whipps. “We should . . . only collect the interest and make sure there are [fish] there all the time.”

The President said that he has been working alongside the BMR, the Palau Conservation Society (PCS), the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC), and the Nature Conservancy to come up with programs to institute size and catch limits for reef fish. However, with Palau’s dependence on fish for food security, these limits will only succeed if Palau has an “alternative” supply of pelagics, the President said.

The GGP-procured vessel will allow fishermen in Palau to fish using the pole and line method, which involves fishermen lining up along the rail and hooking pelagics one at a time with long poles. The technique normally uses live bait and water spray systems to spur schools of tuna into feeding frenzies, during which fish biting on lines running from the poles can easily be pulled onto deck.

Although establishing sustainable domestic fisheries has been a key issue for President Whipps since the beginning of his election campaign, procuring the equipment large enough to build such an industry remains a challenge for Palau.

President Whipps said that Kuniyoshi Fishing Company (KFC) in Palau used to run pole and line operations for years and provide pelagics to the local community, but that the ceasing of KFC’s operations in Palau has led to a fall in this alternative source of fish. Right now, BOFI, the sole administrator for tuna in Palau, is operating with one longline vessel in order to bring in mature pelagics to the local market from Palau’s domestic fishing zone.

The two boats donated by OFCF will also be used to catch pelagic species, as well as continue to set up the FAD system in nearshore waters. Fisheries Advisor Leon Remengesau of BMR stressed that the size of the vessels will help local fishermen deal with Palau’s “bad weather” and “rough waters”, which have posed challenges to fishermen in smaller boats.

Palau’s FADs, which are being deployed by BMR, use buoys to attract schools of pelagics in nearshore waters. Research at PICRC has determined that these FADs, which are more accessible to the smaller motorboats common in Palau, generally attract smaller pelagics such as juvenile yellowfin tuna, which are not big enough to export but a good size to sell on the local market.

Ambassador Karasawa explained that Japan will continue to provide assistance in technical expertise through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for utilizing the boats for fishing and FAD-deployment.

 Japan has been a large contributor to Palau’s fishing industry for decades, providing around $26 million in assistance to the fishing sector in the last forty years.

OFCF President Takenaka Yoshiharu said that OFCF has provided assistance to Palau over the years which, in addition to the two newly-donated boats, has included trainings, technical cooperation with BMR in the maintenance of ice-making machines used by state fishers, and maintenance of BMR’s vessels. In return, OFCF and Japan have benefited from “stable access to [Palau’s] waters”.

“Based on the good relationship between Palau and Japan, and with permission from your government, our fishing vessels are conducting fishing operations in your Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ),” Mr. Yoshiharu said in a video message to President Whipps, adding that this access to the domestic fishing zone is the “foundation in implementing our technical cooperation in Palau”.

“It is my heartfelt wish that the mutually-beneficial fisheries relationship between Japan and Palau will not only be maintained, but will be deepened even further,” said President Yoshiharu. 

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